This year the journey ended high on Dartmoor at about 67 miles after a beautiful sunny day running in ideal conditions. I had carried a discomfort in my foot for perhaps the 30 previous miles but it was only superficial through those stages . I thought the discomfort was nothing more than the tongue of my shoe digging into my foot which had caused a trifling soreness on the top of my right foot, such problems are to be expected. By Tavistock the discomfort had got much worse and I was struggling to flex my foot. I changed my shoes and socks at Tavistock, the checkpoint penultimate to my retirement and I was confident that the softer shoe would remedy the niggle that had been felt each time my foot left the ground. On the way to Princetown our pace slowed and the pain got worse. By the time I reached the checkpoint I knew I couldn’t carry on. Ultra running is about fighting through pain and finding ways to deal with problems that arise but I simply couldn’t see a way out. I was hardly able to flex the foot and flexing the foot is a requirement of running, especially when the running involves another 30 miles. The damage assessment at Princetown confirmed that things were not looking good. The foot had swollen in two particular localised areas, the first towards the bottom of my leg where the leg meets the foot, a bit like a sprained ankle, and the second a further more severe swelling half an inch further on, at the top right hand side.
|The leg before I retired seen during the day. We ran up the path towards cam through the bridge in the distance.|
The decision to retire is never easy but the announcement of the decision to those around you is the hardest part of all. This year I had enjoyed an unarranged grouping with six other people. It just happened that as it went dark I was running at similar pace and we all kind of congregated at or between checkpoints. We then ran on together into the night. Most of the night section was high and remote and part of it went through a sprawling forest with maze like paths in various directions. It seems that for most LDWA 100 milers the more remote the route the better the experience. At 2am at 400m above sea level on Dartmoor with no artificial light to be seen in any direction I was more than glad of company both for morale and assistance with navigation. The five of us had progressed well, Mark Garratt had navigated with stellar precision and Geoff Holbert had confirmed the navigation a few paces away. We supported each other over the long drag to Princetown and I felt quite embarrassed and ashamed to have to confess to the others that I was pulling out. I hadn't complained about the foot problem during the previous sections so the announcement came as a surprise. I was later to learn that Mark thought I was joking!
|Mark Garratt second home in 23:33 casts a spell on a bottle of drink for extra energy.|
Just after 2am I reluctantly watched the others leave the primary school which was being used as a makeshift checkpoint. The others stole back out into the night and across the dark moor in the shadow of an imposing Dartmoor Prison which was eerily illuminated by a big moon. I was left behind with Tracy who had supported the run throughout the day and who in addition to the checkpoint staff had made attempts to get me to carry on. The foot swelling got worse with rest and when I tried to stand, it couldn't bear weight. We drank some of the ale which was provided by the ever friendly and helpful checkpoint staff and then we left, me feeling sad that my second 100 attempt had ended in another DNF. We drove to Plymouth Hospital to get the foot checked and I looked out of the car window thinking of the others somewhere deep in the moor. At the hospital there was a handful of other patrons including a prisoner from Dartmoor handcuffed to a guard. The x-ray proved inconclusive but the doctor suspected a stress fracture of the metatarsal. I was advised to rest (that was a given) and have the foot x-rayed again on return to Grantham because apparently stress fractures take time to reveal themselves. When we left the hospital the sun had come up and we were very tired.
|Julian Brown 24:59 & I|
Despite my personal woes I had another great adventure and met some remarkable people. The six of our night crew were originally Colin Travis, Mark Garratt, Julian Brown, Geoff Holburt, Phil Gwilliam and I. Geoff Capps had dropped of the pace slightly before nightfall. I'd met Geoff earlier in the day, his GPS was failing and he asked me to confirm the route. We ran a few legs together and I was grateful for his company. It turned out Geoff was from Salford and we shared a kind of Mancunian connection with me hailing from Stockport. Geoff's GPS recovered and so I ran on a bit after Callington which was when I caught up with the six members of the night crew. After Luckett at 48.4 miles we ran through Blanchdown Wood. The wood was more like a forest, It was dark and it was uphill and it seemed there were paths in every direction. I was grateful to have company and I feared for Geoff somewhere behind running by himself with an occasionally failing GPS. The results show that Geoff made it to the finish - fantastic if only to get through that wood in one piece.
More stories or stoicism abounded at Tavistock. We were now 57.3 miles in and darkness was now well set in. I sat in the checkpoint eating porridge with whisky. I had been offered whisky as an alternative to honey or syrup and I gave a joking nod in appreciation of the joke ..... It wasn't a joke. These events are a bit eccentric and a bowl of freshly brewed porridge duly arrived complete with a wee dram of Scotch to warm my cockles. The six of us had seated wearily and erratically at different tables. We must have looked like a disjointed shambles all sat remotely making use of the space, the checkpoint volunteers attended to our needs. As I changed my shoes to relieve the tension in my foot, I noticed voices of concern for Geoff who was sitting behind me. I looked to see Geoff shaking uncontrollably, his limbs moving with a rhythm similar to the chatter of his teeth. A volunteer stood by him looking a bit concerned. I had seen enough, I also felt concerned and decided to return to my porridge. As my head swung wearily back I caught sight of Colin. Colin was sitting with his head in his hands and when someone asked him if he was ok he raised his head to display a pale sickly complexion. Colin wasn't good either. This was a low point of the day we were 57 miles in after running through a beautiful sunny Cornwall in ideal conditions, but the efforts were taking their toll and it wasn't nice to witness. I still felt strong but watching others suffer makes you worry if you might be next to face grief. I was surprised about the suffering because we were only just over half way and I knew these folk were well experienced at longer distances, perhaps the heat of the sun was taking its toll? Geoff was enthusiastically dismissive, "I'll be fine when we get going". Colin displayed less optimism, in fact he displayed none at all preferring to keep his head in is hands to avoid throwing up or passing out.
We started to gather to leave the warmth of the checkpoint. The volunteers had again done a sterling job of feeding us, even providing a woollen blanket for Geoff in an attempt to revive him. Julian, Phil, Mark, Geoff and I stood up, Colin stayed down, he was in a bad way and we had to leave without him. I was certain Colin would retire, I was wrong. His complexion looked like a person that was about to pass out he complained of nausea, there was simply no way he could continue. The results show he did continue finishing the 100 miles in 26 hours and 34 minutes. I have no idea how he managed to do that, how he pulled himself round to run another 50 miles I will never know.
We plodded on, absent of Colin, towards Princetown, a long section of almost 10 miles that would bring us to the 66.8 miles point. I ran just behind Geoff and Mark who were navigating and I made repeat attempts to keep up with our location on the map in case I couldn't keep up with the others. Julian ran adjacent and Phil just behind. I felt pretty good apart from my foot and felt positive, I was running with folk that I knew were very good distance runners with a wealth of experience over 100 mile events and the conditions were ideal, the bright moon shined and illuminated the surrounding hill shadows in the distance. The leg to Princetown did however seem to take ages and wasn't helped by the remote moorland section with a twisty disused railway path that snaked around the hills. I remember a particularly funny moment when high up on Dartmoor in the black of the night as we plodded towards Princetown. We hadn't spoken for some time, we were well into the final third of a ten mile section, our heads were down and we were marching on. Suddenly the silence was broken, I heard Geoff say to Julian "are you an airline pilot?" and Julian relplied "no, why did you think that?", "oh I thought I heard you talking about planes before". After that the conversation ended abruptly, nothing more was said. I chuckled to myself, tiredness manifests itself in unusual ways!
The eventual lights of the village of Princetown which sits high up on the moor were shielded by tall conifers which did nothing for morale. By now my foot was hurting badly and my positivity was being challenged. I longed for the checkpoint, if it wasn't for the conifers I could have at least seen the checkpoint joy approaching. I staggered in and made the difficult decision to quit, I couldn't flex my foot, the shoe change hadn't helped. The others ran on and all finished with brilliant strong runs Mark running home second in the field. Mark later e-mailed to tell me the story that I should have been part of:
It got really cold after Princetown with a sharp frost and unbelievable rocky. Me Geoff and Phil kept together to ashburton Julian caught us up at the self clip. I struggled into Asburton had a nasty blisters and legs shot. I stopped in checkpoint so Anna could attend to blisters whilst the others carried on taped them up new socks and trainers and decided to carried on I got outside and couldn't run legs gone walked at bit and got frustrated and deceided to run thorough the pain .I have no idea what happend next but after two miles couldn't feel a thing think my legs just went knumb. Caught this guy up on the 1.30 pm start ran with him a bit and carried on caught Geoff Phil and Julian back up so I stopped with them but my pains come back . The 1.30 starter caught us up so me and Geoff ran off with him . I stopped with him to liverton. I felt good carried on in front of the 1.30 guy whilst he stopped in checkpoint and I just got stronger and stronger past the guy with sticks at 93 just after Chudleigh Knighton and kept going . I did 23 hours 33 minutes which at the moment I cannot believe or sunk in . I was first back 11.30 starters . Guy on 1.30 start just over 22 hours, guy with sticks 24 something ,Phil and Julian 25 somthing with Geoff just behind (Thanks to Mark Garratt for permission to reproduce)
From the account above It seems that everyone had moments of despair, which perhaps come with the territory over such a distance. The aim is to carry on, "relentless forward progress". Perhaps my swollen foot was nothing more than "my moment", my Colin moment of nausea, my Geoff moment of shivering, my Mark moment of numb legs. The difference is those folk had the mental strength to battle through and therein lies the beautiful skill of the ultra distance runner - a tough, detached mind.
|Dartmoor Prison seen during the day|
The LDWA 100 is a fantastic event supported by a host of kind cheerful volunteers. The LDWA's various regional groups run the different checkpoints and give up their time over the bank holiday weekend to help to make the event a success. thank you to each of them and thanks to my all those whose company I shared during those 67 miles of the best of Cornwall and Devon country. I am disappointed not to have made it but not badly so. I have a challenge to keep me nimble. I must finish an LDWA 100 mile event. Next years event is in the Welsh Valleys, the website is already up and running here.
Results from 2013 here.
Results from 2013 here.